Recently I got a request from a Facebook page that I like to follow for the positive memes. The request was from the owner of the page. She was asking for prayers to give her strength to deal with the dark forces that were invading her life. Those dark forces were stopping her from making an income and she needed all the white light and magics she could muster to get them out of her life.
I don’t know all of the specifics of the request, but it reminded me of another one I had years ago as a Wiccan priestess. I was contacted by a couple who were trying to get the demon that had attached itself to them to leave. Their theory was that the demon didn’t want them to be together because even though they loved each other, they would yell and bicker about everything and just couldn’t get along.
Don’t get me wrong here, there is a place for magic and spell work to help things move along, but there is also a need to do everything that is physically possible to make things work for yourself too. Praying to the Gods and the spells are only a piece of the puzzle to get through the rough spots in your life.
I have a great example that I thought of while driving home last evening. Here in the Midwest, the darkness falls quickly. That darkness, along with the time of year, means a great amount of deer in my neighborhood. Deer getting hit by vehicles is an unfortunate, yet frequent event. To prevent this, I have some spell work on my vehicle and created a reiki shield to help keep deer and any other animals out of my way. Now I could just rely on that, but I don’t. Instead I also drive slower at night, don’t tailgate, and choose roads where I haven’t seen as many deer moving. So far I have been very thankful that I haven’t hit anything. All three of these things I believe have had a hand in that.
Recognizing that there is mundane work to do in my book is a must for any magic practitioner. It’s described as a foot in both worlds. We are in the world, but not fully a part of the world. This is a hard thing to remember at times, but it is a critical thing to keep in mind.
The more pagan blogs I read, the more I realize there are a lot of different opinions out there about what it means to be pagan, who is ‘right’, who is ‘wrong’, where we are going as a community, where we should be going, where we shouldn’t be going, and so on and so forth.
I read all of these opinions, and all I see is human nature taking its course. Perhaps it is because I have done too much source work and am looking at it from a macro instead of microcosm, but inevitably all of this comes down to the nature of human beings to discuss, theorize and to disagree. Every spiritual movement has to go through this and every spiritual movement is going to be strengthened or weakened because of it.
The argument du jour that I seem to be getting a lot of posts is whether or not pagans/heathens must also be theists. Instead of theorizing on which way is right here (many people have already given their opinions already, mine is mine and it is acceptable to me). I want to discuss reasons why we have so many opinions. I think if we start really discussing why the ‘shields come up’ when we hear something that is different to what we believe, then perhaps we will start recognizing what really happens to us subconsciously when we hear something that doesn’t feel right or goes against our belief system.
Differences in opinion take us out of our comfort zone
I work for a medical device manufacturer. In my day to day job I work with engineers that need to propose changes to a device to make it work better. Every once in a while an engineer will propose a new way to test something, or a new tweak to a device that will allow our customers to use it better. After I start working with that engineer on how to verify the change will work, I inevitably get some sort of push back from the quality team on the proposal. 90% of the time, the rationale for the push back is something along the lines of “we have never done that before so we can’t change it.”
Because the change is unprecedented, I think it could sometimes look as the proposal is just downright not possible. In fact, some might think it is downright scary. How will we validate it? What will our customers think? Can we even do it and still stay within the guidelines and regulations for medical devices? Inevitably, the engineer and I investigate further, and most of the time find a reason why it does work and implement the modification.
The same type of scenario happens in religion. Only in religion and belief, the stakes are way higher. Our beliefs are our comfort zone; they are just as close to our hearts as our morals, and sometimes even more so. So when someone comes in and even makes a statement that contradicts what you hold most dear, it is uncomfortable. Here is this precious thing that you have held onto; this lifejacket that has gotten you through trials and problems, and now someone is saying it might not be right? That is scary. That is dangerous. That challenge is enough to start a war.
Acceptance of a different idea than what you believe is hard. Seriously HARD. But to accept something doesn’t mean that you agree with the point. All acceptance says is that you respect the difference of opinion. For me, when I cannot fathom accepting something, I use the term “agree to disagree.” At least with that term I am saying that the person has the right to think differently, even though I cannot understand why they have that belief in the first place.
Differences in opinion mean we aren’t as inclusive as we want to be, or mean that we shouldn’t be It is human nature to want to be included. It is so ingrained in our psyche that some people prey on this need in attempts to get us to do certain things, act a certain way and believe how they do. We fear being left behind if we start to have a feeling about how something else might work better. I say from experience (and I am certain others believe the same as I do) when I say that it is very hard to strike out on your own, and choose a belief that is different from families, friends and even from your coworkers.
On the other side of the coin, being pushed out of your group is also hard. Yet in world history, it happened often, and it is some of the reasons why have the diversity we see today in our systems of belief. Diversity is not a bad thing; but it feels like it should be if the belief system that someone holds so dear – their system that keeps them inclusive with others in their group or community – is challenged. It’s scary if for some reason you feel like you are not included anymore.
Many pagan organizations exist that have a specific theology. And then a split happens, and another organization is formed due to that split. I’ve seen this happen countless times. Now I’m not saying that splits are not necessary for other reasons, but we have to be willing to look within ourselves and find the true answer to why the split happened in the first place. Does it need to happen for the good of the organization, or is it something that might challenge our exclusivity? If you don’t follow me, here is an analogy that might help – Are we “picking up toys” because we are mad, or are we truly going to create a different type of sandbox that our toys might be better utilized for?
Differences in opinion activate our defense mechanisms
There is a big use of the acronym “UPG” when discussing another’s belief system. UPG stands for Unverified Personal Gnosis. It basically means that someone’s personal insights about religion are not verified by someone else, nor documented in historical documentation about that particular religion or God/Goddess. It seems to me it is not just thrown around as a label for a hypothesis that someone has, but also as a shield against trying to learn something new. It’s like some people feel that if something is UPG, it is therefore something they don’t have to think or feel about. I’ve seen people do that with other words too; words like “stupid”, “wrong” and “ridiculous”.
Whether or not the belief comes from lore or not isn’t the point. The point is that it is human nature to classify something in order to move it out of the reality that it may indeed challenge us. To some, if something is “UPG” it is therefore not acceptable to them to even consider. UPG is equal to “wrong”, “outside of something I have to think about”, or for some people, equal to the word “stupid”.
I’m not saying that any of the things that I have talked about here are the right way, nor am I saying they are the wrong way. What I want to get across is that there are psychological reasons to why we act as we do when we hear something that doesn’t fit our belief system. We as a community need to recognize that. We as a community also need to work to be more understanding of different viewpoints. And at the very least, we need to learn to respectfully agree to disagree. Because in the end we all go on our own personal spiritual way, and that is all that truly matters.
I have spent a great deal of my pagan journey as a Wiccan. As part of this, I tried to follow one of the most well-known verses of Wicca Law, the Wiccan Rede. This is a moral code that most Wiccans become quickly familiar with when they start their spiritual journeys down the Wiccan path. What surprised me though is that there isn’t more of a breakdown of this code for aspiring Wiccans to follow; instead my teachers said ‘here it is, follow it’.
Now if you are like me, you want to specifically study what it is you are asked to follow, and not just follow something blindly. So I took the time to break down this code into each verse to understand its meaning further. And while I don’t call myself Wiccan any longer, I still believe in what I think is the intended meaning of this verse.
There are different opinions as to the origins of the Wiccan Rede. Some point to Gerald Gardner’s High Priestess, Doreen Valiente, who first publically spoke a verse similar to the one below in the 1950s. Others believe that the original verse was pulled together from Aleister Crowley’s “The Book of the Law”, published in 1904. Since its origins are still fairly new compared to other religious tenants, some question how something so ‘new’ could be considered a moral code. My belief is that like other holy texts, these were words written by man, but inspired by divinity. So no matter where the origin of the words, the meaning behind them is so great that we need to at least look at the verse and see if it stirs anything in our heart. If there is a stirring, perhaps there is a lesson or meaning there. For me, I recognize that each and every line of the Rede has meaning, and that those deeper meanings form a set of guidelines for a spiritual life.
If you do an internet search, you will be surprised at how many variations of the Wiccan Rede there are. Some are much longer and more eloquent, while others just point to one phrase. Below is what I learned originally when I first started studying Wicca:
Bide the Wiccan Law ye must In perfect love and perfect trust Eight words the Rede fulfill An it harm none do what though will Lest in self-defense it be Ever mind the rule of three Follow this with mind and heart And merry ye meet, merry ye part
I still prefer this variation because to me it gives you more guidance than just the one line, but yet it is not long enough that its meaning could become muddled.
So here is the breakdown that I feel is right for me, and I offer it here for contemplation:
Bide the Wiccan Law ye must…
All religions have guidelines that must be followed, and Wicca is no exception. In order to follow the Wiccan path, you need to follow the Wiccan law. This is a given. However, how does one go about following Wiccan guidelines? In my opinion, religion isn’t about where you can go to church and allow your spirit to be ‘nourished’ while you sit and grouse in the pew because the mass is taking so long. There is discipline that is needed here. And the more you put into following Wiccan Law, the more you are going to get out of it. This is the same with any set of religious laws, ethics or morals someone would have. The more you put into following them, the more nourishment and strength that is delivered to your spirit.
In perfect love and perfect trust…
What does perfect love and perfect trust mean? Many years ago, prior to the formation of the Christian religion, the early disciples practiced a discipline known as “agape”. Agape, which means ‘compassionate love’ in Greek, was the practice of loving all. This included loving your neighbor, loving your enemy, and loving your friends, and showing all of them compassion. As my original Wiccan teachers taught me, the terms “perfect love and perfect trust” are a newer interpretation of agape. You will hear those words in Wiccan circles extensively when calling on powers greater than ourselves. We use those words to show we are in a state of acceptance and do not have any ulterior motives. This also shows that we are open to the wisdom and aid we receive from those powers.
Another thought about this tenant is that we need to consider being in a state of acceptance trust in our daily lives. We have become part of a society that looks at things like ulterior motives, conspiracies and corporate greed as things that are normal. Because of this, we get into the habit of recognizing that another’s action is immediately meant to belittle, demean or hurt us in some form or fashion. It’s time to transcend that intent; give the other person the benefit of the doubt! That guy that just cut you off on the freeway may be racing to the hospital to be there for a loved one. That person in the staff meeting might be so scared to talk in front of the big boss that they aren’t fully recognizing what it is that just came out of their mouth. Someone could just be having a bad day (they happen to everyone!).
One last thought about this, and perhaps the most important thought. Yes, we need to show perfect love and perfect trust to others, but we also have to show that same behavior to OURSELVES.
Eight words the Rede fulfill…
This tenant is saying something important. It is telling you that the next one is one of the most important tenants of the Rede. In fact, the next tenant is the one that you hear quoted the most. If you can only live by one tenant, the next one should be it.
An it harm none do what though will…
I originally learned this as, “do whatever you wish, as long as you don’t harm anyone, anything or yourself, and you will be fine”. However it took several years for me to really grasp what that meant. How do you go through life without hurting anything? To survive we need to kill plants and animals for food, clothing and shelter. That is certainly harming other things!
So because we already have to harm things to survive, does this mean we are already breaking this part of the Rede? Not necessarily. This part of the Rede is really starting to ask you how you think about the reactions your actions will create. For some, this means that they choose to try to live off the land as much as possible; forgoing a car, living modestly and being a vegetarian, or other measures they feel are part of their discipline.
The problem is that it is not always plausible to do those things. In order to survive, we need to do some sort of destruction in order to create. Vegetarians have to kill plants in order to eat. Even in the society we live we have to do things that will cause harm just to survive. At one time I unfortunately had a 68 mile one-way commute to work. I drove this 68 mile commute in the only vehicle I had – in a Chevy Blazer (awesome truck, but horrible on gas mileage and carbon emissions!). I tried to find other options to make my commute shorter, but there was no public transportation that would go where I needed to go, no other coworkers near me that I could carpool with, and moving closer was unfortunately not an option. Therefore the drive was a necessity. So during the time I commuted, I paid extra for “carbon credits” to a Native American organization that helped to plant trees.
So the intent here is that everything needs to be in balance. Recognize the balance, and try to live by it.
Lest in self-defense it be…
Let’s talk about harm to someone for a moment. There are multiple ways harm can occur. There could be an accident where the harm was not intentional. There could be purposeful harm, where someone is purposefully ready to cause harm to someone else. There is also perceived harm, where someone believes they have been harmed, but truly they have not.
The harm that should be defended against is a purposeful harm. No one should ever allow themselves to be purposefully hurt by another. You have to love yourself enough to recognize the situation and trust in your own skills and in divinity.
This tenant states that when you find yourself in a situation where purposeful harm exists, you CAN defend yourself or do whatever you need to do to get out of it.
As a martial artist I have learned one more thing about this tenant. This is not a free pass to respond with excessive force. If in an altercation with someone that person pushes you and you respond by smashing their face into the ground, that’s not self-defense. That is responding with excessive force, and most likely you will end up facing both physical consequences from law enforcement as well as the karmic consequences from your action. There are many ways to get out of that situation without excessive force. Leaving the area, applying a pressure point or locking out a finger, wrist or elbow joint would get the assailant’s attention to not mess with you.
So basically what I am saying is that in a purposeful situation, get out of it if at all possible, or respond only with the force you are shown. This also applies to metaphysical forces. If someone is trying to purposefully cause metaphysical harm, (not as common as most people think!) things like a Witch’s bottle, warding and stronger shielding are usually enough to deal with the situation. (In fact, in my experiences with Witch’s bottles I find they actually take care of quite a bit of negativity. They may not be very nice to make, but they are extremely strong tools.) You should not immediately throw something back at the possible assailant. It just causes more frustration and drama than it helps.
If harm was not intentional, or you perceived harm happening to you that just wasn’t there, this tenant doesn’t cover you. Yes, do what you need to if something is thrown your way, but if someone looks at you cross-eyed, and you take offence, this doesn’t mean that you have the right to be offensive back in the name of self-defense.
Ever mind the rule of three…
This is the tenant made famous by the movie “The Craft” back in the 90s. Whatever you do the energy of that action will return to you threefold. So if you do something positive, the karmic energy of that good work will come back to you threefold. If you do something destructive, that destructive energy will come back to you threefold. This, in my mind, makes up for how we can work with the tenant, “An it harm none, do what thou will”. Since we cannot create without destroying, we need to be cautious of what we do because we shall inherit the karma of that action. So someone who is intentionally hurting a plant or animal shall receive a bigger karmic debt than someone who hurts a plant or animal accidentally.
Taking this even further, someone could make up for the karmic debt they are collecting. The carbon credits I purchased to help make up for my 136 mile daily journey is an example. Other examples could be the vegetarian purchasing as much food as locally as possible in order to keep their money in their local community, or the carnivore purchasing meat that was certified as humanely raised.
Follow this with mind and heart…
There is a tenant in Catholicism that I am very confused by, and started to mention it previously in this post. Catholics must go to mass every Sunday (or Saturday night now that things have loosened up a bit…) and they must take communion. Have you ever been in a Catholic church during those Sunday masses? Does anyone look happy to be there? According to Catholic doctrine, whether or not you participate in the mass, or are looking forward to going or not, you MUST attend and you MUST take communion because there is a transformation going on within your soul when you do these things. It doesn’t matter if you mutter ‘oh crap’ when the priest decides to speak the litany of the saints (a monologue that extends mass by 15-20 minutes – been there, muttering done), your soul is getting its nourishment. This never seemed right to me. You should be enjoying your time with divinity; not forced to endure it for your betterment. This is exactly what I think this tenant speaks to. You need to follow these tenants to the best of your ability, giving it your mind and your heart. You need to actively seek to do the right things by the Wiccan Rede. This is where discipline comes in. Sometimes the path will not be easy, and sometimes you have to make hard choices, but you always have to stick to your moral code. Like I said before, the more you put into any spiritual tradition, the more you will receive out of it.
And merry ye meet, merry ye part…
Everyone that we meet is for a reason. Whether it is the person you see on the street walking by you, a coworker you work well with, or even your boss has something to teach you. With all of the other tenants in mind, we need to approach each and every interaction we have without judgment or predisposition of whether or not it is going to be a “good” or “bad” interaction. We need to be mindful of our actions and how they are perceived, and make amends when they don’t go as well as we would like. We also need to be ready to learn, because learn we will!
We also have to be joyful of what it is we are learning and doing. You can do everything right, but if you do it with a crappy attitude, you aren’t going to get very far. Being joyful also helps make those harder decisions easier to execute.
Summing it all up, one could look at this doctrine and see that it is very similar to other religious doctrine out there. But whether or not you follow Wicca, I hope that just looking at this breakdown will help you consider looking at the spiritual doctrine you follow a little deeper. Perhaps you will find something that will help make your practice a little more rewarding.
For me, it feels right to start giving thanks as the crops grow and the time of the first harvest. So when Thanksgiving rolls around, it seems to me like it’s a little late. However all of the blog posts about gratitude got me thinking about something that I haven’t ever said I was grateful for, and that is being grateful for myself.
Being raised Roman Catholic, you don’t get to think much about taking care of yourself. In Roman Catholicism you are taught in a nutshell that things happen to you because you are bad. Further, you are expected to sin or else they would not require you to confess those sins several times a week.
Another example is the host in communion. Not only do you have to ensure your soul is pure by confession but you also have to consume a wheat host once a week in order to receive the blessings of Jesus. You are considered outside of the church if you cannot receive the actual host for communion every week. Unfortunately for me, even if I wanted to be in communion with the Catholic Church I could not be. I cannot eat wheat, and wheat is a required ingredient in a host according to Roman Catholic doctrine. So in essence, something I cannot control causes me to not be in communion, and thus my future in heaven is in jeopardy. Therefore, something I cannot control makes me evil, and I could either give into that evil or I have to literally eat poison to be saved.
As you can tell, the Catholic Church doesn’t have a very good reputation of empowering their true believers.
The Catholic Church isn’t the only thing out there that makes us feel bad about ourselves. Over and over again in our families, in the media and by our friends and acquaintances we are told we are not good enough. It has gotten to the point that we don’t even know that we are doing it to each other anymore. Someone’s actions are misconstrued into looking like something with a negative intent, and that is all it takes to allow our minds to start beating ourselves up. A minor miscommunication from a mother or father changes a child’s thinking, and thus insecurities form. Media outlets scream advertisements that tell us we aren’t thin enough, pretty enough, don’t make enough or are not smart enough. Bullies at school do things that we carry with us throughout our adulthood. Bosses, coworkers and classmates gravitate toward specific individuals and thus someone feels left out. One by one these things pile up until the thought of not being good enough, not being powerful and secure in who we are is considered normal.
So we reach for the things that make us feel better. We reach for religion, the thought of being in an inclusive group is comforting. We reach for food, as it feels better to stuff our feelings down into our stomachs instead of expressing them. We reach for material goods just to try to fill that hole deep within us, but nothing really satisfies.
Nothing at least, until we realize that the hole we are trying to cover up isn’t a hole at all. It is actually our own potential as human beings.
As I go through the stillness of these dark months I am realizing that I am enough. I am full and complete just as I am right now. I have potential, I am powerful and I am worthy of carrying the mantle as a Priestess of the Gods and Goddesses that wish to have me. I am worthy of working with the spirits of the land, and I am worthy of my ancestors. I am worthy in this life to be whom I wish in this mundane world; and I am strong enough to make a difference in the endeavors of my choosing.
This does not mean there isn’t work to do and it absolutely doesn’t mean that I am entitled to be handed anything. But what it does mean is that I know I am strong enough to move things forward in the way I need them to be in order to pursue my goals and dreams.
This also doesn’t mean that I am exempt from the circumstances of my choices. I still have my karmic debt to deal with, and I can choose to make more of that debt to be paid, or I can start to erase it. The choice is mine to make.
We have too many things in this life that scream at us that we are unworthy of being who we choose to be. Let this writing be a spark to others to realize that things can change deep within ourselves to the point that we feel worthy again. Let us each look deep into our soul and realize that we each have our personal truth of who we are and what we can accomplish. Let us each recognize the astonishing light of our own being, and may we use it to honor the Gods and our ancestors by being beacons to those who are in a place so dark that they cannot find their true light within themselves. After all, what could be more pleasing to the Gods than for them to see us recognize our true potential and use that to help others?
So for this Thanksgiving, I am choosing to be grateful for starting to learn my personal truth. And I am grateful that I can find the words to share this truth with others. I am grateful for my strength, my beauty, and the realization that I am enough. And I am grateful that I have the opportunity to honor my Gods and my kin with who I am and what I choose to be.
I just got a puppy. She is a four month old German Shepherd that was rescued from an abusive home. The thing is, I also have five spoiled rotten cats raining in age from 8 to 10 years.
My husband and I have done everything we can to make this transition as smooth as possible. We have the dog crate, fenced in part of our yard, got a doggie play pen, got dog toys and chews, baby gates and more cat furniture in strategic areas so the cats had escape routes when the dog wanted to investigate. We said prayers and left offerings to our house spirits, cat and dog friendly Gods and Goddesses, and set up new altars. We discussed training, pet insurance, doggie chores, traveling with the dog, having a cat’s only room, everything we could think of.
Last week we brought her home, and like expected, our cats went nuts. Then halfway through the week we discovered the puppy has separation anxiety, which increased the burden of training her to use the crate and puppy play pen. So long story short, my husband and I are riding out a storm of animal craziness right now.
I have recognized that this entire situation is a lesson. I have to trust in the preparations that we made for this dog. I have to trust in my knowledge of cats enough to know I did the right things for them to learn to accept their new sister easier, and I have to let time take its course.
In every endeavor you have to recognize that you can only do so much. You cannot control all the variables of a situation. You can only do what you know is the best course of action. Sometimes you might know exactly what to do (like I do with the cats) and sometimes you do what you know at the time (like we are doing with the puppy). And as my knowledge grows, I will change my course of action and take care of the puppy better.
Now just because you didn’t have the knowledge you needed to at the beginning doesn’t mean it’s time to beat yourself up. A great example is realizing that puppies need naps, and sometimes they get overtired like children, and don’t want to take that nap. This meant we’ve had to start implementing ‘down time’ for the puppy. I am not going to beat myself up for not knowing that. I just adjust the puppy’s schedule, and move on. When you know better, you do better.
These are hard lessons to follow all of the time. But they are the types of lessons that can be implemented into all facets of life, especially with spirituality. If you give a purposeful effort, and do everything you know to do, you will get a response. It may be a response of doing something different, and not the outcome you expect, but that is still a response. And after you adjust and continue working toward the goal, things will get better.
I don’t expect my cats will ever become 100% accepting of my dog. But today I watched one of them playfully swat at her because she was being annoying. No hiss, no claws extended, just a “go away you big thing” type of swat. There is progress, but also the sign of more work to do.